Coal Issue Apparently Decisive in Whatcom County Council Races

Nov 6, 2013

Environmentalists are celebrating an apparent victory in Whatcom County where controversy over a proposed coal terminal seems to have tipped the balance of power.

Four candidates backed by the Seattle-based Washington Conservation Voters appear to be winning. They are incumbents Ken Mann and Carl Weimer, and challengers Barry Buchanan and Rud Browne.

The races are officially non-partisan, and the candidates opted not to talk about coal directly because they were told they have quasi-judicial status. 

But political scientist Todd Donovan, a professor at Western Washington University in Bellingham, says aggressive canvassing by anti-coal groups appears to have worked, even though there’s no guarantee the council members will actually get to decide on permitting for the proposed terminal north of Bellingham.

“Coal was the issue that really flipped it. But that’s sort of the irony, is that they won’t see the permit vote on coal for a long time. And even then, nobody’s still said explicitly whether they would vote for the terminal or against it," Donovan said. "But if this stuff holds, if the pattern of results holds, the anti-terminal folks are feeling pretty good."

As of the latest count, all four of the environmentally-backed candidates had at least 52 percent of the vote despite a last-minute influx of money from coal companies late in the race.

The county council will decide on many other development issues, including a proposal for a new jail and how to come into compliance with the state’s Growth Management Act.